Saturday, February 28, 2009

Yei! Hooray?

I'm listening to a Rachel Maddow podcast, chatting on Facebook, and had a dinner of chapatis, avocado salad, chicken and lentils about an hour ago. Just watched President Obama's news conference on BBC. That all seems very 2009 American, right?

...Except for the fact that my house is a canvas safari tent, dinner was cooked by Sudanese women with babies on their backs, and the podcast took about 45 minutes to download on the satellite connection.

I'm in Yei, southern Sudan (don't capitalize the 's' in southern, by the way, as it could imply support for secession in the 2011 referendum). It's about 160km southwest of Juba, very close to the borders of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I've been here a few days now, mostly doing orientation stuff, but getting ready to start work soon. I'll be working in the Information Management Unit for the organization looking at the impacts of economic recovery programs. Mostly it's been an opportunity to meet other members of the staff who happen to be passing through at the moment, find out details of things like the IT policy, and in general, getting adjusted to life here. I'm only sticking around Yei until Tuesday though, then it's back to Juba for one night, and onward to a town called Wunrok, still in the southwest of Sudan, but much farther north than here. I'll be traveling by small plane, thanks to World Food Program's Humanitarian Air Service, which has a fleet going around to tiny airstrips across the region. This is a huge help, as our initial trip from Juba to Yei was rough, to put it mildly. Although it was only perhaps 50 kilometers for the first leg, from Juba to a town called Lainya, the dirt road was full of holes and troughs so big as to feel like each could swallow our Land Cruiser. From Lainya the road became significantly better, still dirt, but smooth enough that I could hold my head in place without feeling as though my neck would snap if I turned the wrong direction.

Our compound in Yei is very basic, but functional. There are a series of concrete buildings with offices for Logistics, Finance, HR/Administration, and my department, Information Management. Behind the offices are a long row of green canvas 'safari tents,' heavy duty shelters built on concrete footings, with mosquito netting on the windows, and locks on the zippers. Off to the side in an enclosed concrete building are three shower stalls (with varying degrees of pressure), a pit latrine, and two Western-style toilets. The entire compound is ringed by a fence of sharp sticks and wire, giving a view of the huts just beyond. It's definitely nothing special, but it's at least functional. There are a few extra creature comforts that make it feel different from my Peace Corps experience- our common dining room has DSTV, a South African satellite network, a badminton net, and we have internet access via another satellite parked in the middle of the lawn. It's slow, but being able to update a blog like this, or browse Facebook is a big step from anything I had when I was teaching English in Gounou-Gaya.

As I imagined it would, life feels a lot like it did in Chad here. It's hot and humid, and at the risk of falling into clich├ęs, people seem very friendly. Except for Lydia, the one-year-old who rides around on the back of one of the housekeepers- I think she hates me. She wails every time I come close... Naturally, I know what the issue is- she hates imperialist American foreign policy.

Seriously, I can only imagine how alien a white person must look to a baby who has only ever seen faces so black that anything this side of ebony would be bizarre. From what I've seen so far, many southern Sudanese people's skin is black to the point where it almost takes on a bluish hue. It'll be interesting to see how that changes as I move a bit farther north, into Dinka territory.

I'm planning on heading into town this afternoon, and I'll try to get a few pictures uploaded soon. Looks like it might be awhile before I have a phone, so go ahead and email, or just find me on Skype (my username is nathanieltishman). Hope things are well wherever you are, and look for another update before long.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Here at last

Just arrived at the office in Juba, South Sudan, after what has been more or less nonstop travel for the past six days.

It's hot. Not as hot as I expected, but still, a big change from the icy streets of New York and London over the past few days.

On the plane from Nairobi to Juba, as I passed by what I'm pretty sure was Mt. Kenya, I couldn't help but laugh to myself a little when I thought about how long this journey has been, but in a way, how very fast this has all happened. In the past month, I've gone from Denver to San Francisco to Arcata to San Francisco to Chicago to Baltimore to Washington to Chicago to San Francisco to Arcata to San Francisco to New York to London to Nairobi and Juba. 11 flights and 29 days later, stop and take a breath.

It was great to be in London for a little while, the first time I'd been in Europe in a couple years. Although this might sound crazy to any Londoners seeing this, I was shocked by how clean the entire Tube system seemed- maybe it was coming from New York though, where the subway seems permanently gross. Had a chance to see my cousin, as well as a friend, both of whom are living there at the moment. Granted, it was only a long layover, but still.

I had just over 24 hours to spend in Nairobi, and although I basically only saw the airport, guesthouse, and two malls. Even in that limited time though, it was pretty clear that Nairobi is on an entirely different level, development-wise, from what I've seen in my previous travels in Africa. I went for lunch with another staff member to a mall that looked as though it could've been dropped down in the middle of suburban Americana, complete with electronics shops selling iPod accessories, green tea smoothies at a coffee shop, and a bungee-jump trampoline in the parking lot, which, naturally, was filled with SUVs. The difference of course, being that this is hardly typical- I was in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of the city, and the SUVs were primarily Land Cruisers, many of which had enormous antennas for the VHF radio connections.

I'd heard stories about Nairobi's legendarily terrible traffic, but honestly, I had no problem. My taxi driver/Formula One wannabe seemed to know every back alley, and I arrived at the airport three hours early. One thing I've noticed in the past couple days of traveling is the utter sameness of every duty free shop. Apparently all a person needs to survive when traveling internationally is: a passport, enormous cartons of Marlboros, multi-liter bottles of Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker, bricks of Toblerone (white, dark, and milk), chocolate, M&Ms, perfume, and the occasional digital camera.

After a one-and-a-quarter hour East African Express flight (complete with lunch and drinks; cheap Americans...) I arrived at Juba's run-down (is there anything else in this part of the world?) airport. After an enormous line, and a verification of my travel permit (like a visa, but not quite, since South Sudan isn't officially an independent country), I met Rodrigo, the Communications and Information Manager for the organization; we're waiting for the driver, and will be heading off to the hotel shortly. From what I understand, we'll only be here tonight, and then I'm off to the town of Yei for a week or so to have some sort of orientation...

I should have a phone soon, and once I do, I'll post the number. Until then, look forward to hearing from you...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Welcome!

Friends, Family & Beyond...

This is my new space to share my story, wherever I happen to be at the moment. Over time, this site will evolve to share more details on my latest adventures, particularly as I prepare to head off to Sudan, where I'll be interning with Mercy Corps.

I feel like it's important to catch up though first, so I'm including galleries from many of my previous travels beforehand, including a large section about my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad (about halfway down the page). Otherwise, things are in mostly chronological order.

Please look around, post a note, and keep in touch. Make sure to check back, as I'll usually have something new to say.

Nathaniel

NW Road Trip, 12/2008

Niger, 8/08

Uganda, 7/08-8/08

Oregon, 6/08

Jamaica, 4/08

DC, 3/08 & 6/08

Denver & CO, 8/07-2/09

Cameroon, 6/05 & 4/06

Chad, 9/04-4/06

San Francisco, 2004-2009

Humboldt County, 2003-2009

Miscellaneous Travels, 2003-2008

Poland, 4/03

Greece, 4/03

France, 2003, 12/05, 4/06

The Netherlands, 9-12/2002, 12/2005

Israel, 1/00, 7/02, 11/03